Burrell's Edwards 1 of 4 WPIAL wrestlers to reach PIAA Class AA finals
HERSHEY — In a dream he had one night early this season, Burrell senior 152-pounder Steve Edwards watched himself win a state wrestling championship and jump in his coaches' arms with tears welling in his eyes.
“It's something I've wanted to experience real bad,” said Edwards, who placed sixth as a junior.
He'll get his chance to live that dream Saturday afternoon at the Giant Center, as he's one of four WPIAL wrestlers in a title bout in the PIAA Class AA individual championships. Finals and medal matches begin at 2 p.m. Edwards (45-4), who won 5-1 in the semifinals Friday night, meets Southern Columbia sophomore Blake Marks (35-5) in the title bout.
Well before Edwards, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit, put himself in position to reach the PIAA's peak, he went through several weeks' worth of dark days. In late December, he learned the full extent of his troubles: an anxiety disorder caused him to endure panic attacks, including one during the Powerade Christmas Tournament — he blacked out in the middle of a match — and another a couple afternoons later at a Burrell wrestling practice.
“I started breaking down, hyperventilating and crying,” Edwards said. “And halfway through it, I started laughing at little bit, like, ‘Why am I doing this?' ”
Medication and sessions with a psychologist helped Edwards understand and manage his condition. He learned how to relax on the mat and away from it. The depressive thoughts that bothered him for nights at times no longer enter his mind.
“Through (the postseason), I've been doing pretty good,” he said. “I haven't been thinking negative things. I don't think about consequences and what-ifs.
“I try not to think about wrestling when I'm warming up and waiting for matches. I sing songs in my head. I walk around, look around. It's kind of hard not to focus on wrestling when you're at this place, and you hear everyone screaming. But I try as best I can to block everything out. A lot of times, coaches and the guys will find me back in the locker room by myself where it's quiet. I love the big stage, but I like quiet a lot, too.”
Another appreciator of quiet and calm, Kittanning senior 145-pounder Jason Nolf, is in the PIAA finals for a third time in four tries. The stoic two-time state champ can finish his career 176-1 with a victory in the title bout Saturday. Nolf (43-0), who won by fall in the semifinals, will meet Williamson junior Billy Barnes (42-0) in the finals.
“I'm pretty excited — as excited as I usually am for the state finals,” Nolf said in a flat tone. “I came in (to the tournament) expecting to dominate more than I usually do. I guess that's about the only difference.”
Avella senior 220-pounder Jake Temple also has a chance to cap his senior season with an unbeaten record. Temple (42-0) became Avella's first state finalist since 1988 by topping Bethlehem Catholic's Andrew Dunn, 4-2, with a reversal in the ultimate tiebreaker period of overtime. He'll meet West Branch's Reynold Maines (38-1) in a title match for the second time in eight days; Temple beat Maines, 3-2, in an ultimate tiebreaker for the Southwest Region championship.
The WPIAL's fourth Class AA finalist is South Fayette junior J.J. Walker, who won 4-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker period of overtime against Milton's Ryan Preisch in the semifinals. Walker (43-1) will meet Coudersport's Kyle Bova (35-0) in the finals.
Only four of the 10 semifinalists from the WPIAL advanced.
Burrell, South Fayette and Valley each have a WPIAL-high three wrestlers in medal matches, while Kittanning has two.
A pair of WPIAL wrestlers who started Friday undefeated finished the night with hopes of placing no higher than fifth. Jefferson-Morgan senior 126-pounder John Demaske (42-2) dropped a 5-1 decision in the semifinals and then lost 5-4 in the consolation semifinals. And South Fayette sophomore 132-pounder Mike Carr lost 6-4 in the quarterfinals, bounced back with two consolation-round wins, and then came up short 3-2 in the loser's bracket semifinals.
Derry sophomore 120-pounder Micky Phillippi wound up on the bad end of another notable moment from the Class AA morning session Friday, as the 2013 PIAA champ at 113 lost 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Phillippi (41-5) will wrestle the opponent who beat him in the quarterfinals, Bethlehem Catholic's Joey Gould (39-11), for third place.